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Welcome to World Class: Neymar


Once upon a time, from the late 1970s to the late 2000s, any promising Brazilian striker was generally to be called a ‘new Pele’.

For decades, Brazil searched for a successor to the three-time World Cup winner, which defined an era. Other Brazilian superstars have come and gone, but Neymar is the one who has finally put research to bed since he emerged around 10 years ago.

Ronaldo was more explosive, but injuries crippled his potential, splitting his career almost into two isolated four-year chunks, as he made surprisingly little at club level. Meanwhile, Ronaldinho’s fate to true world-class status only lasted a few seasons.

Others, like Adriano or Robinho, showed promise before disappearing without much impact at the elite level.

These four examples were arguably finished or close to it by the time they reached Neymar’s current age. In stark contrast, Neymar himself is as good as he has ever been, a world class forward, and he still has the courage inside him to improve before calling him a day.

As a teenager, Neymar helped Santos win the Copa Libertadores for the first time since Pelé’s days almost 50 years earlier. Before that, Brazilian fans asked him to participate in the 2010 World Cup at 18. Such was his obvious talent from a young age, Real Madrid had wanted to sign him at 14, seeking an opportunity to try and make him his own version of Lionel Messi.

Brazilian soccer star Neymar from Santo
Neymar bordered on world class as a teenager | MAURICIO LIMA / Getty Images

Having won the Puskas Prize in 2011 and playing against Barcelona in the FIFA Club World Cup that year, Neymar has been in world-class territory since he finally moved to Europe in the summer of 2013 and landed at Camp Nou.

It took a long time to find his bearings, but the 2014/15 season underscored what Neymar was all about. He has scored 39 times in all competitions as Barca won the Champions League in a historic second treble, forming one of the great attacking trios of all time alongside Messi and Luis Suarez.

Neymar was equally devastating the following year as Barca retained two-thirds of that treble to win a domestic double and his status among the best in the world for what is now an extended period is reflected in five Ball nominations d’Or since 2014, including two among the top three. finishes.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr
Neymar is regularly nominated for the Ballon d’Or | Philipp Schmidli / Getty Images

He played on himself in 2017 when Paris Saint-Germain wanted to trigger their € 222million release clause to make him the most expensive player of all time. Anxious to step out of Messi’s shadow after four years, Neymar has taken the plunge to try to push PSG over the line in the Champions League.

Continued domestic domination has not been a problem – Neymar has won two French triples and three Ligue 1 titles in total – while PSG have gone further than ever in Europe in 2019/20. He was instrumental in this journey to the Champions League final and in 2020/21 became the first player in the history of the competition to score 20 or more goals with two different clubs.

With Brazil, Neymar rushes to Pelé’s all-time goal scoring record. He’s edged out Ronaldo this year and will catch up with Pelé to set a new record before too long. There have been criticisms that much of his international goals have come in friendlies, but Pele has also inflated his score this way, while Neymar scores proportionately about as often in competitive play – as he does. played in many more friendlies resulted in the slightly misleading bias in his numbers.

Neymar Jr
Neymar to overtake Pelé as Brazil’s all-time top scorer | Craig Mercer / MB Media / Getty Images

The injuries significantly impacted Neymar’s time at PSG, while the coronavirus pandemic prematurely ended the 2019/20 season in France as the campaign was abandoned. But his numbers are still astonishing – nearly one goal per game in the league and 79 of 97 in total at the time of writing. More than 45 assists bring his involvement on goal as a PSG player to well over one per game.

The enormous talent has long made Neymar a target for aggressive defenders. And although he has developed a sometimes disagreeable reputation as an actor, it is the often brutal treatment he receives that has limited his impact. It doesn’t affect PSG too much domestically when they are ruled out, but Neymar was recovering from a broken foot when the French giants were kicked out of the Champions League by an understaffed Manchester United in March 2019, for example.

It is also probably no coincidence that Brazil collapsed in the 2014 World Cup at home when Neymar was kicked out of the tournament with a fractured spine.

When he’s fit and shooting he has shown he can be unplayable.

Neymar arguably underperformed but is unplayable at his best | FRANCK FIFE / Getty Images

In particular, Neymar made the difference when Barcelona made an unthinkable overall comeback against PSG in the Champions League in 2017, perhaps the night the French realized they needed him to achieve their lofty ambitions in Europe. .

He’s got a bit lost at times since, but 2020 and PSG’s Champions League run showed that things are far from over. There will soon be a power vacuum at the very top of the game with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi approaching the end of their respective careers. After all, Neymar is still pretty good and has the time left in his own career to fill it.

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